Human Diversity

The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class


By Charles Murray

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All people are equal but, as Human Diversity explores, all groups of people are not the same — a fascinating investigation of the genetics and neuroscience of human differences.

The thesis of Human Diversity is that advances in genetics and neuroscience are overthrowing an intellectual orthodoxy that has ruled the social sciences for decades. The core of the orthodoxy consists of three dogmas:

– Gender is a social construct.

– Race is a social construct.

– Class is a function of privilege.

The problem is that all three dogmas are half-truths. They have stifled progress in understanding the rich texture that biology adds to our understanding of the social, political, and economic worlds we live in.

It is not a story to be feared. “There are no monsters in the closet,” Murray writes, “no dread doors we must fear opening.” But it is a story that needs telling. Human Diversity does so without sensationalism, drawing on the most authoritative scientific findings, celebrating both our many differences and our common humanity.


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A Note on Presentation

Human Diversity is grounded in highly technical literatures involving genetics, neuroscience, and statistics. It must satisfy two audiences with completely different priorities: my intended reader and the experts.

I’ve always thought of my intended reader as someone who enjoys reading the science section of the New York Times—curious about scientific matters, but someone who wants the gist of the science, not the minutiae. I need to keep the narrative moving. But I am conveying material that often has daunting technical complexities. Readers also need to be able to compare my claims with the details of the underlying evidence. I use my three favorite devices: Boxed text introduces related issues that are interesting but not essential. Appendixes provide full-scale discussions of important ancillary issues. Endnotes expand on points in the main text. But Human Diversity uses these devices, especially the endnotes, even more extensively than I have in the past. Some of the endnotes are full-scale essays, complete with tables. Brackets around a callout number for an endnote indicate that it contains at least a substantial paragraph of additional exposition.

For this complicated book, I have had to add a fourth device. In the past, I have usually been able to avoid technical jargon in the main text. Human Diversity doesn’t give me that option. Too much material cannot be discussed without using technical terms that will be new to many readers. I therefore insert periodic interludes in the text to explain them.

I have also tried to make the book more accessible by my treatment of charts and tables. Sometimes the information in a figure or table is complicated enough to warrant giving it a title and traditional formatting. But often a simple graph of a trendline or a few summary statistics don’t need the folderol. They can be integrated into the text so that you can absorb the simple point that’s being made and move on.


If you have picked up Human Diversity looking for bombshells, you’ll be disappointed. I’m discussing some of the most incendiary topics in academia, but the subtext of the chapters to come is that everyone should calm down. The differences among human groups are interesting, not scary or earthshaking. If that sounds boring, this isn’t the book for you.

If, on the other hand, you have reached this page convinced that gender, race, and class are all social constructs and that any claims to the contrary are pseudoscience, you won’t get past the first few pages before you can’t stand it anymore. This book isn’t for you either.

Now that we’re alone, let me tell you what Human Diversity is about and why I wrote it.

The sciences form a hierarchy. “Physics rests on mathematics, chemistry on physics, biology on chemistry, and, in principle, the social sciences on biology,” wrote evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers.1 If so, this century should be an exhilarating time to be a social scientist. Until now, we social scientists—for I am a member of that tribe—have been second-class citizens of the scientific world, limited to data and methods that cast doubt on our claim to be truly part of the scientific project. Now, new possibilities are opening up.

Biology is not going to put us out of business. The new knowledge that geneticists and neuroscientists are providing, conjoined with the kinds of analyses we do best, will enable us to take giant strides in understanding how societies, polities, and economies really function. We are like physicists at the outset of the nineteenth century, who were poised at a moment in history that would produce Ampères and Faradays.

We ought to be excited, but we aren’t. Trivers again: “Yet discipline after discipline—from economics to cultural anthropology—continues to resist growing connections to the underlying science of biology, with devastating effects.”2

Why the resistance? Because the social sciences have been in the grip of an orthodoxy that is scared stiff of biology.

The Orthodoxy

The core doctrine of the orthodoxy in the social sciences is a particular understanding of human equality. I don’t mean equality in the sense of America’s traditional ideal—all are equal in the eyes of God, have equal inherent dignity, and should be treated equally under the law—but equality in the sense of sameness. Call it the sameness premise: In a properly run society, people of all human groupings will have similar life outcomes. Individuals might have differences in abilities, the orthodoxy (usually) acknowledges, but groups do not have inborn differences in the distributions of those abilities, except for undeniable ones such as height, upper body strength, and skin color. Inside the cranium, all groups are the same.

The sameness premise theoretically applies to any method of grouping people, but three of them have dominated the discussion for a long time: gender, race, and socioeconomic class. Rephrased in terms of those groups, the sameness premise holds that whatever their gender, race, or the class they are born into, people in every group should become electrical engineers, nurture toddlers, win chess tournaments, and write sci-fi novels in roughly equal proportions. They should have similar distributions of family income, mental health, and life expectancy. Large group differences in these life outcomes are prima facie evidence of social, cultural, and governmental defects that can be corrected by appropriate public policy.

The intellectual origins of the orthodoxy go back more than three centuries to the early days of the Enlightenment and the concept of humans as blank slates. The explicit rejection of a role for biology in the social sciences occurred from the end of the nineteenth through the beginning of the twentieth centuries, with the leading roles played by Émile Durkheim in sociology, Franz Boas in anthropology, and John Watson in psychology.3

The political expression of the orthodoxy had its origins in the mid-1960s with the legal triumphs of the civil rights movement and the rise of feminism. In the beginning, the orthodoxy consisted of specific allegations and solutions: Racism keeps black unemployment high. Sexism stunts women’s careers. Affirmative action and antidiscrimination laws are needed. But the orthodoxy soon began to incorporate an intellectual movement that gained momentum in the mid-1960s with the publication of The Social Construction of Reality by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

The authors were dealing with an ancient problem: Each of us thinks we know what reality is, but different people have different perceptions of it. “The sociologist is forced by the very logic of his discipline to ask, if nothing else, whether the difference between the two ‘realities’ may not be understood in relation to various differences between the two societies,” wrote Berger and Luckmann.4 This beginning, written in plain English, perfectly sensible, morphed during the 1970s and 1980s into the orthodox position that just about everything is a social construct, often argued in postmodern prose that is incomprehensible to all but the elect.5 The sources of human inequalities are artificial, made up, a reflection of the particular reality that a dominant segment of society has decided is the one we must all live by.

As I write, three of the main tenets of the orthodoxy may be summarized as follows:

Gender is a social construct. Physiological sex differences associated with childbearing have been used to create artificial gender roles that are unjustified by inborn characteristics of personality, abilities, or social behavior.

Race is a social construct. The concept of race has arisen from cosmetic differences in appearance that are not accompanied by inborn differences in personality, abilities, or social behavior.

Class is a function of privilege. People have historically been sorted into classes by political, economic, and cultural institutions that privilege heterosexual white males and oppress everyone else, with genes and human nature playing a trivial role if any. People can be re-sorted in a socially just way by changing those institutions.

I have stated these tenets baldly. If you were to go onto a university campus and chat privately with faculty members whose research touches on issues of gender, race, or class, you would find that many of them, perhaps a majority, have a more nuanced view than this. They accept that biology plays a role. Why then don’t they mention the evidence for a biological role in their lectures? Their writings?

A common answer is that they fear that whatever they write will be misinterpreted and misused. But it’s easy to write technical articles so that the mainstream media never notice them. The real threat is not that the public will misuse a scholar’s findings, but that certain fellow academicians will notice those findings and react harshly.

Therein lies the real barrier to incorporating biology into social science. It is possible to survive on a university campus without subscribing to the orthodoxy. But you have to be inconspicuous, because the simplistic version of the orthodoxy commands the campus’s high ground. It is dangerous for a college faculty member to say openly in articles, lectures, faculty meetings, or even in casual conversations that biology has a significant role in creating differences between men and women, among races, or among social classes. Doing so often carries a price. That price can be protests by students, denial of tenure-track employment for postdocs, denial of tenure for assistant professors, or reprimands from the university’s administrators.

The most common penalties are more subtle. University faculties are small communities, with all the familiar kinds of social stigma for misfits. To be openly critical of the orthodoxy guarantees that a vocal, influential element of your community is going to come after you, socially and professionally. It guarantees that many others will be reluctant to be identified with you. It guarantees that you will get a reputation that varies from being an eccentric at best to a terrible human being at worst. It’s easier to go along and get along.

The risks that face individual faculty members translate to much broader damage to academia. We have gone from a shared telos for the university, exemplified by Harvard’s motto, “Veritas,” to campuses where professors must be on guard against committing thought crimes, students clamor for protection against troubling ideas, codes limiting the free expression of ideas are routine, and ancient ideals of scholarly excellence and human virtue are derided and denounced.6 On an individual level, social scientists have valid rationales to avoid exploring the intersection of biology and society. Collectively, their decisions have produced a form of de facto and widespread intellectual corruption.

Archaeological Digs

The good news is that some scholars have been exploring the intersection of biology and society despite the risks—so many that the orthodoxy is in the process of being overthrown. The heavy lifting is being done not within the social sciences, but by biologists and, more specifically, by geneticists and neuroscientists. They have been accumulating data that will eventually pose the same problem for defenders of the sameness premise that Aristotelian physicists faced when Galileo dropped objects from heights. Everyone could see that they didn’t behave as Aristotle’s theory predicted. No one could offer a counterargument. When our understanding of the genome and the brain is sufficiently advanced—and it is approaching that point faster than most people realize—the orthodox will be in the same position. Continuing to defend the sameness premise will make them look silly. It is my belief that we are nearing inflection points and that the triumph of the revolution will happen quickly. The key battles are likely to be won within the 2020s. This book is a progress report.

In the course of writing Human Diversity, it became apparent to me that progress is at strikingly different points for gender, race, and class. The analogy of an archaeological dig of a buried city comes to mind.

The dig for gender is well along. Excavations have been extensive, the city’s layout has been identified, and thousands of artifacts have been found. There’s lots yet to be done, but the outlines of the city and its culture are coming into focus.

The dig for race is in its early stages. Topological analysis has identified a promising site, initial clearing of the site has been completed, and the first probes have established that there’s something down there worth investigating. Scientists are just beginning excavation.

The dig for class had been largely completed by the end of the twentieth century, and scholars in this century had until recently been kept busy analyzing the artifacts. They are now returning to the site with newly developed tools.

Analogies aren’t precise, but this one explains the organization of the book. I begin with gender differences and devote five substantial chapters to them. A lot has been securely learned about gender differences. Race gets shorter chapters describing how the site was located, how it has been cleared, and the evidence that there’s something down there worth investigating. The chapters on class summarize findings that for the most part have been known for decades.

Why Me?

I am neither a geneticist nor a neuroscientist. What business do I have writing this book?

The answer is that specialists are seldom good at writing overviews of their specialties for a general audience because they know too much—the forest and trees problem. It’s often easier for an outsider to communicate the specialists’ main findings to other outsiders. There are personal reasons as well. I think I’m skilled at making the findings of technical literatures accessible to a broader audience, I enjoy doing it, and I have been a fascinated observer of developments in genetics and neuroscience for years. I’m also at a point in my career when I’m immune to many of the penalties that a younger scholar would risk.

That career includes the firestorm that followed the publication of The Bell Curve more than a quarter of a century ago, an experience that has been on my mind as I have written Human Diversity. How can I avoid a repeat? Perhaps it’s impossible. The background level of animosity and paranoia in today’s academia is much worse than it was in 1994. But here is the reality: We are in the midst of a uniquely exciting period of discoveries in genetics and neuroscience—that’s good news, not bad. My first goal is to describe what is being learned as clearly as possible, without sensationalism. I hope you will finish the book understanding that there are no monsters in the closet, no dread doors that we must fear opening.

My second goal is to stick to the low-hanging fruit. Almost all of the findings I report are ones that have broad acceptance within their disciplines. When a finding is still tentative, I label it as such. I know this won’t deter critics from saying it’s all pseudoscience, but I hope the experts will be yawning with boredom because they know all this already. Having done my best to accomplish those two things, I will hope for the best.

Hundreds of millions of years of evolution did more than shape human physiology. It shaped the human brain as well. A comparatively new discipline, evolutionary psychology, seeks to understand the links between evolutionary pressures and the way humans have turned out. Accordingly, evolutionary psychology is at the heart of explanations for the differences that distinguish men from women and human populations from each other. Ordinarily, it would be a central part of my narrative. But the orthodoxy has been depressingly successful in demonizing evolutionary psychology as just-so stories. I decided that incorporating its insights would make it too easy for critics to attack the explanation and ignore the empirical reality.

I discuss some evolutionary material in my accounts of the peopling of the Earth and the source of greater male variance. That’s it, however, ignoring the rest of the fascinating story. The note gives you some sources for learning more.[7]

The 10 Propositions

The propositions that accompany most of the chapters are intended to exemplify low-hanging fruit. I take on an extremely broad range of topics, but with the limited purpose of clarifying a handful of bedrock issues.

I apologize for the wording of the 10 propositions—they are not as snappy as I would prefer—but there’s a reason for their caution and caveats. On certain important points, the clamor of genuine scientific dispute has abated and we don’t have to argue about them anymore. But to meet that claim requires me to state the propositions precisely. I am prepared to defend all of them as “things we don’t have to argue about anymore”—but exactly as I worded them, not as others may paraphrase them.

Here they are:

1. Sex differences in personality are consistent worldwide and tend to widen in more gender-egalitarian cultures.

2. On average, females worldwide have advantages in verbal ability and social cognition while males have advantages in visuospatial abilities and the extremes of mathematical ability.

3. On average, women worldwide are more attracted to vocations centered on people and men to vocations centered on things.

4. Many sex differences in the brain are coordinate with sex differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior.

5. Human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity.

6. Evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local.

7. Continental population differences in variants associated with personality, abilities, and social behavior are common.

8. The shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.

9. Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.

10. Outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on personality, abilities, and social behavior.

On all 10, the empirical record is solid. The debate should move on to new findings in the many areas where great uncertainty remains. That doesn’t mean I expect the 10 propositions to be immutable. On the contrary, I have had to keep in mind that Human Diversity is appearing in the midst of a rushing stream, reporting on a rapidly changing state of knowledge. Aspects of it are sure to be out of date by the time the book appears. My goal is to have been so cautious in my wording of the propositions that any outdated aspects of them will have been elaborated or made more precise, not overturned.

How the Phrase Cognitive Repertoires Is Used Throughout the Rest of the Book

The 10 propositions repeatedly refer to “characteristics of personality, abilities, or social behavior.” As I will occasionally put it, I am talking about the ways in which human beings differ above the neck (a loose way of putting it, but serviceably accurate).

I use personality and social behavior in their ordinary meanings. Abilities is a catch-all term that includes not only intellectual abilities but interpersonal skills and the clusters of qualities that have been described as emotional intelligence and grit. A good way of thinking about the universe of abilities is through Howard Gardner’s famous theory of multiple intelligences.[8]

From now on I will usually abbreviate personality, abilities, and social behavior to cognitive repertoires. Cognitive means that it happens in the cranium or is at least mediated there. Repertoires refers to different ways of doing things that need not be ordered from “bad” at one extreme to “good” at the other. Some of them can be so ordered, but few have bad-to-good extremes. If you’re an employer, where do you want a job applicant to be on the continuum from “extremely passive” to “extremely aggressive”? It depends on whether you’re recruiting Navy SEALs or care providers at nursing homes, and in neither case is the most extreme position the ideal one. The same is true even of something generally considered to be an unalloyed good, such as high IQ. Google may be looking for the highest possible visuospatial skills among its applicants for programmers, but the qualities that often accompany stratospheric visuospatial skills would make many of them dreadful choices as SEALs or care providers.

For most of the human qualities we will be discussing, “bad” and “good” don’t capture human differences. How many kinds of lovable are there? How many kinds of funny? How many kinds of annoying? Using the word repertoires allows for these kinds of apples and oranges too. So take note: For the rest of the book, cognitive repertoires = characteristics of personality, abilities, and social behavior.

As we embark on this survey of scientific discoveries about human diversity, a personal statement is warranted. To say that groups of people differ genetically in ways that bear on cognitive repertoires (as this book does) guarantees accusations that I am misusing science in the service of bigotry and oppression. Let me therefore state explicitly that I reject claims that groups of people, be they sexes or races or classes, can be ranked from superior to inferior. I reject claims that differences among groups have any relevance to human worth or dignity. The chapters to come make that clear.



From earliest recorded human history, everywhere and in all eras, women have borne the children and have been the primary caregivers. Everywhere and in all eras, men have dominated the positions of political, economic, and cultural power.1 From those two universal characteristics have flowed a cascade of secondary and tertiary distinctions in the status of men and women, many of which have nothing to do with their actual capabilities. In today’s language, gender has indeed been partly a social construct. Many of those distinctions were ruthlessly enforced.

The legal constraints on women in the modern West through the eighteenth century were not much short of de facto slavery. Mary Astell, often regarded as the first feminist (though she had precursors), made the point in response to John Locke’s cramped endorsement of women’s equality in the Second Treatise.2 She italicized phrases borrowed from Locke’s philosophical case for freedom: “If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves? As they must be if the being subjected to the unconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of men, be the perfect condition of slavery?… And why is slavery so much condemned and strove against in one case, and so highly applauded and held so necessary and so sacred in another?”3

If Astell’s language seems extreme, consider: An English woman at the time Astell wrote and for more than a century thereafter rarely got any formal education and had no access to university education, was prohibited from entering the professions, and lost control of any property she owned when she married. She was obliged to take the “honor and obey” marriage vow literally, with harsh penalties for falling short and only the slightest legal protections if the husband took her punishment into his own hands. Men were legally prohibited from actually killing their wives, but just about anything less than that was likely to be overlooked. When the first wave of feminism in the United States got its start at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, women were rebelling not against mere inequality, but against near-total legal subservience to men.

Under those conditions, first-wave feminists were too busy to say much about questions of inborn differences between men and women. An exception was Kate Austin, who compared the plight of women to those of Chinese women with bound feet: “We know that at birth the feet of the little baby girl were straight and beautiful like her brothers, but a cruel and artificial custom restrained the growth. Likewise it is just as foolish to assert that woman is mentally inferior to man, when it is plain to be seen her brain in a majority of cases receives the same treatment accorded the feet of Chinese girls.”4 As Helena Swanwick put it, “There does not seem much that can be profitably said about [the alleged inferiority of women]… until the incubus of brute force is removed.”5 Men joined in some of the strongest early statements on nature versus nurture. John Stuart Mill coauthored “The Subjection of Women” with his feminist wife, Harriet Taylor.6 George Bernard Shaw wrote, “If we have come to think that the nursery and the kitchen are the natural sphere of a woman, we have done so exactly as English children come to think that a cage is the natural sphere of a parrot—because they have never seen one anywhere else.”[7]

After the great legal battles of first-wave feminism had been won during the first two decades of the twentieth century, a new generation of feminists began to devote more attention to questions of nature versus nurture. The result was second-wave feminism, usually dated to the publication of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe, a massive two-volume work published in 1949. Its argument sprawled across philosophy, history, sociology, economics, and psychology. The founding statement of second-wave feminism opened the second volume: “



    "I'll be shocked if there's another book this year as important as Charles Murray's Coming Apart."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; font: 12.0px Arial}David Brooks, The New York Times
  • "Mr. Murray's sobering portrait is of a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; font: 12.0px Arial}Wall Street Journal
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  • "[Murray] argues for the need to focus on what has made the U.S. exceptional beyond its wealth and military power...religion, marriage, industriousness, and morality."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; font: 12.0px Arial}Booklist (Starred Review)

On Sale
Jan 28, 2020
Page Count
528 pages

Charles Murray

About the Author

Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He came to national attention first in 1984 with Losing Ground and most recently in 2012 with Coming Apart. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.

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